Jail unlikely for Tocchet in sports gambling-ring case

Updated: August 17, 2007, 3:21 AM ET
Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. -- Rick Tocchet will likely walk away without jail time when he's sentenced for running an illegal sports gambling ring, despite international headlines linking the case to professional hockey's biggest star.

Tocchet could get up to five years in state prison Friday for promoting gambling and conspiracy, charges to which he pleaded guilty in May.

But there is a presumption against incarceration for first-time offenders who plead guilty to third- or fourth-degree crimes, which means the retired Philadelphia Flyer is unlikely to serve any time for his crimes, said Rachel Goemaat, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, which prosecuted the case.

Under terms of Tocchet's plea deal, the state made no sentencing recommendation, leaving it to the discretion of the court. Tocchet was due to appear at 9 a.m. Friday before Burlington County Superior Court Judge Thomas S. Smith Jr. in Mount Holly.

An assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes under Wayne Gretzky, Tocchet partnered with a New Jersey state trooper and another man in a sports betting venture they ran for five years. He was placed on indefinite leave from his job after he was charged.

James Harney, the trooper who has since been forced to give up his badge, was sentenced earlier this month to five years in prison. The other man, James Ulmer, has not yet been sentenced.

The case became one of the biggest stories in hockey when the men were charged in February 2006 because authorities said several of the bettors were people connected to the game. The only name that was ever revealed among them was Janet Jones Gretzky, the wife of legend Wayne Gretzky, and authorities said early on that neither she nor other bettors would be charged.

The case remained international news throughout the 2006 winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, where Gretzky coached team Canada.

In the investigation that followed, authorities and hockey officials have said there's no evidence of betting on hockey.

But the betting was heavy on other sports. In the 40 days that led up to the charges, the ring handled $1.7 million in bets, including college football bowl games and the Super Bowl.

The business was lucrative for Harney while it lasted. When he was arrested, police took 32 watches and nine televisions from his home, and he forfeited his home, his interest in his wife's home and cash.

Harney met Tocchet in the 1990s, when Tocchet was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers and Harney tended bar at a hotel frequented by athletes. After retiring in 2002, Tocchet became Gretzky's top assistant coach with the Coyotes.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press